NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN/AP) — Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee early Tuesday, shredding at least 40 buildings and killing at least 24 people.
According to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, 18 of those deaths were reported in Putnam County, three were in Wilson County, two were in Davidson County (Nashville) and one was in Benton County. The agency earlier reported 25 deaths and 19 in Putnam County.
The National Weather Service (NWS) surveyed the area and determined Mount Juliet experienced winds between 155-160 mph while Donelson sustained winds of 160-165 mph.
This is just damage observed in these neighborhoods and it might possibly be the same tornado, according to the NWS.
Daybreak revealed a landscape littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, leaving city streets in gridlock. Schools, courts, transit lines, an airport and the state capitol were closed, and some damaged polling stations were moved only hours before Super Tuesday voting was set to begin.
“Last night was a reminder about how fragile life is,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
Residents of the historic Germantown neighborhood walked around in dismay as emergency crews closed off roads. Roofs had been torn off apartment buildings, large trees uprooted and debris littered many sidewalks. Walls were toppled, exposing living rooms and kitchens in damaged homes. Mangled power lines and broken trees came to rest on cars, streets and piles of rubble.
“It is heartbreaking. We have had loss of life all across the state,” Lee said. The governor ordered all non-essential state workers to stay home Tuesday before going up in a helicopter to survey the damage.
The tornadoes were spawned by a line of severe storms that caused damage across Tennessee.
It ripped through parts of the metropolitan area that have been transformed by a recent building boom. Germantown and East Nashville are two of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, with restaurants, music venues, high-end apartment complexes and rising home prices threatening to drive out long-time residents.
One tornado touched down near downtown and reportedly stayed on the ground for about 10 miles (16 kilometers), into Nashville’s eastern suburbs, following a path parallel to Interstate 40 and causing more damage in Mt. Juliet, Lebanon, Hermitage and other communities.
“Our community has been impacted significantly,” the Mt. Juliet Police Department tweeted. Multiple homes were damaged and multiple injuries were reported, the department said. ”We continue to search for injured. Stay home if you can.”
Metro Nashville Police said crews were responding to about 40 building collapses around the city.
John C. Tune Airport, Nashville International’s sister airport in West Nashville, “sustained significant damage due to severe weather,” spokeswoman Kim Gerlock said in a statement early Tuesday morning. Several hangars have been destroyed and power lines are down, so the public should stay away until further notice, she said.
A video posted online from east Nashville showed what appeared to be a well-defined tornado moving quickly across the city, flashing with lightning as it ripped open living rooms and kitchens in damaged homes.
Among the collapsed buildings was a popular music venue that had just held an election rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The crowd left shortly before the twister struck the Basement East Nashville, the Tennessean reported.
The disaster impacted voting in Tennessee, one of 14 Super Tuesday states.
A state Democratic Party spokeswoman said a judge has extended voting hours in Tennessee’s second-largest county.
The severe weather damaged more than a dozen voting locations in Davidson County earlier Tuesday.
Tennessee Democratic Party spokeswoman Emily Cupples said a judge in the county ruled that polling locations in the county must be kept open until 8 p.m. local time.
Five so-called megasites where anyone in the tornado-stricken county can vote will be open until 10 p.m. under the judge’s ruling.